A new anti-slavery law in Mauritania has recently been adopted by the Mauritanian National Assembly. Mauritania became the last country to abolish slavery 34 years ago, but despite ever harsher laws which now declare the practice a crime against humanity, a deeply ingrained resistance has made the shackles hard to break.
A new law adopted recently doubling prison terms for offenders has been hailed as a sign the government of the west African nation is finally getting serious on cracking down on the practice which activists say is widespread despite being made illegal in 2007.
However as three anti-slavery campaigners prepare to appeal a two-year prison sentence, activists have said the case raises doubts about government’s will to implement the new law.
It was estimated in its 2014 Global Slavery Index that there were 156,000 slaves in Mauritania, or some 4% of the population.
The law passed on August 11 replaces the 2007 version, declares slavery a “crime against humanity” and criminalises “10 other forms of slavery” aside from conditions involving loss of freedom and work without pay.
The law makes forced marriage and handing a woman over to another man after the death of her husband illegal, and doubles maximum prison terms to 20 years.
The law inter alia doubles, from 10 to 20 years, the maximum prison sentence for slavery crimes and creates special prosecution tribunals for slavery-like practices.
Mauritania’s president Aziz, in power since 2009, said in May that slavery no longer exists in Mauritania, but only what he calls the “last vestiges” of an old practice.